This time last year, I was in Khartoum, scouring Arabic TV channels trying to find any reports of events in Tunisia. Twitter and a few blog posts in Arabic and French were reporting that a man had allegedly burned himself alive and protests were erupting throughout the country. There was nothing.
Today, the Arab Spring dominates the Arab airwaves. Egypt in particular, where the awakening flowered with the removal of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, occupies the Arab psyche as a bellwether, a litmus test of how this new political phase is progressing. In a few months, the Egyptian revolution and its aftermath have witnessed a resurgent dictatorship in the shape of the military junta, an intransigent old guard, the trial of the former president, parliamentary elections and the subsequent victory of the Muslim Brotherhood.
If there were ever an Arab country that displayed the full gamut of elements and interlocutors that constitute the random mix that is the contemporary Arabic polity, it is Egypt.
However, the country’s most important contribution to the Arab Spring has been in delivering a dose of reality, a promotion of a politically mature understanding that things will take time. Far from demoralizing, events in Egypt are refocusing people on the importance of thinking beyond the toppling of presidents.
The latest round of disturbances over the past few weeks has been widely referred to as Egypt’s revolution “2.0;” a second wave after the first revolution was “stillborn.” Given the sacrifices before and the euphoria after the ousting of Mubarak, it is dispiriting to see the same scenes play out again in Cairo, with arrests, killings and harassment of women dominating the news from the country.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the military council in charge, has been given a chance and proved that it is cut of the same cloth as its predecessor. However, the current wave of protests represents a different dynamic. We are beginning to see a shift away from one-way diktat to real politics. The military now knows that it cannot call the shots indefinitely.
Far from being frustrating, this new dynamic is encouraging. It would have been an abortion if the new regime were welcomed unquestioningly, as far more acceptable than the previous, and the Egyptian people slipped back into the Mubarak-era malaise of surrendering civic rights.
It displays a covetousness, a monitoring of the aftermath of the revolution and a knowledge and determination to ensure that it is not aborted. Commentator Firas al Attrachi refers to it as “a new social contract.” He states that “events in Tahrir Square, to some extent in January/February and more so in the past week, have forced the foundation of a new social contract along the lines of how nations were formed during the Greek city-state era,” redefining the relationship between people and government, and the very meaning of citizenship in the country.
In the absolute rejection of any government other than a civilian one, Egyptian protesters and activists show they are no longer willing to accept political smoke and mirrors. To the rest of us in the Arab world watching the events unfold, it appears nothing short of a miracle that, almost overnight, Egypt went from an ostensibly inert political environment to one where the most established regime in the region was toppled, to one where, without skipping a beat, there has emerged a lively and robust political dynamic. One that teaches us that it is not just individuals that must be overthrown, but that there also must be a purging of the old guard. The day-to-day events on the ground are arresting and amplified, but rather than taking the wind out of the Arab awakening’s sails, they give succour.